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Mayfly Swarms Plague PA Bridge

Monday, June 22, 2015

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COLUMBIA, PA--A mayfly infestation of near-biblical proportions has shut down the new lighting on a Pennsylvania bridge as bedeviled officials scramble for a permanent solution.

Attracted by the lights on the Veterans Memorial Bridge, the swarms of flies (also called shadflies) have caused at least three motorcycle crashes, a fire official told Lancaster Online.

Mayfly Flies
Richard Bartz, CC BY-SA 2.5 (left) / (right)

The March Brown mayfly is one of more than 300 species of mayfly found in Pennsylvania. Thousands of the flies have clogged the new lighting and coated the deck of Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Susquehanna River.

Tens of thousands of insects swarm the lights and crash to the ground, coating the roadway several inches deep. The span carries Route 462 over the Susquehanna River between Columbia and Wrightsville.

The flies, among more than 300 mayfly species in Pennsylvania, mate in large clouds and hatch from the river below, according to Lancaster Online.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is seeking a solution to the problem, a spokesman told

Bridge, Light Shutdowns

The vehicle crashes forced closures of the bridge two nights in a row earlier this month. On Tuesday (June 16), the Borough of Columbia announced that it would indefinitely shut down the lights at night.

Instagram / davelitrenta

The new lights on the bridge, much shorter than their predecessors, are replicas of the fixtures installed when the bridge opened in 1930.

While officials said that the swarms appeared to be lessening, the lights-off decision carried no end date.

The borough advised motorists to "drive slowly" and pedestrians to "bring a flashlight" when crossing the bridge.

'Like a Blizzard in June'

Visibility on the road in the thick of the swarms was "zero" for a quarter mile, fire officials said.

“It was like a blizzard in June, but instead of snow, it was mayflies,”  Wrightsville Fire Chief Chad Livelsberger told Lancaster Online.

Dead flies coat the bridge deck, leaving it as slick as ice—and smelling like dead fish.

The bridge deck “was very slick, almost like ice,” the chief said. “It was hard to stop, in the engine and the vehicles.”

Livelsberger said his own pickup truck had skidded to a stop. “When you go to pull out, all your tires would do was spin.”

Piles of dead mayflies "line the bridge," reported.

Courtesy Todd Nissly / Wrightsville Fire & Rescue

Crashes and bridge closures followed the infestation of the flies from the Susquehanna River.

Lt. Sean Montgomery of the Columbia Borough Fire Department compared driving on the bug-gooey surface to driving on ice or snow—with one exception. Ice and snow don't "smell like dead fish," he said. The bridge does.

While the area is accustomed to mayflies, longtime local officials called the magnitude of this invasion a first.

$2.3M Project

The lighting on the bridge is brand new, with the ceremonial lighting held in September 2014.

The project entailed the removal of 1,060 cobra-head lamps and their replacement with replicas of the original decorative fixtures.

Borough of Columbia

The new lighting project was completed in September as part of a federally funded bridge renovation.

Reports note that the new art-deco lights are only about 10 feet above the bridge deck, like the originals installed when the bridge opened in 1930. For decades between then and now, however, the fixtures were much higher.

Kuharchik Construction Inc., a family-owned, union contractor based in Exeter, PA, was awarded the contract, which was underwritten by a $2.3 million federal grant.

"This will dramatically improve the visitor’s first impression of the area," the Borough of Columbia said in announcing the project on its website. "The project will restore and preserve the historic authenticity of the Veterans Memorial Bridge."


Tagged categories: Bridges; Government; Lighting; Project Management

Comment from Tony Rangus, (6/22/2015, 9:13 AM)

"Shoo fly don't bother me...." Good time to see if the bug lights sold to consumers are worth anything.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/22/2015, 11:08 AM)

Frankly, lights 10 feet above the bridge deck are very likely to cause dangerous glare to drivers. I've seen other decorative light projects (College Station, TX about 12 years ago comes to mind) where the new, short post decorative lights made driving more difficult. The worst one was lined up perfectly behind a stop sign to make it almost impossible to see the sign at night before it was too late. Luckily a low-volume neighborhood street.

Comment from Jim Johnson, (6/22/2015, 11:42 AM)

It sounds like the situation has been reasonably resolved by shutting off the lights. Drivers successfully navigate many thousands of miles of roadway with just headlights and it is not a concern or a problem. In this case it seems a problem is caused by turning them on, not by the reverse so simply leave them off and enjoy the power savings! This seems to be one case where both the global warming folks and most tax payers would be in agreement!

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